Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fall Running

I really like late fall running. I like the chill in the air and the new vistas that open as the trees shed leaves and that special autumn light. Saturday I ran in the Reserve. Cold enough over night that the ground was crunchy with frost and puddles have the lightest sheen of ice. Now that the most trees have shed their leaves the Blue Route (I476) is more intrusive. You hear it before you see it but rather than grouse I am grateful that these acres were preserved. Late in the run as I came out of the woods toward an open meadow a fat red fox was strolling down the lane. I surprised him as if he wondered why a human was intruding on his day. Not sure if he looked fat because his winter coat is already in or if he has been fattening up on squirrel and rabbit. But today a special treat - as I was coming up a small hill not far from Merion Golf Course a stag came out from between two brilliant red japanese maples. A youngster, two points, one antler coming off would have given him a comical look if he hadn't stop and stared back at me in full dignity. We locked eyes for about 20 seconds before he bounded off. I know they are a pest but I still love these encounters especially when unexpected. The next three weekends I have races - it's been a long time since I tripled. Hope everything holds up.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I wrote this for the Dead Runners Society but wanted to share it with a wider audience. Since increasing my running times/distance I have become more interested in trail running. Fortunately there is a solution in my own backyard. Today is bright, beautiful, filled with the special October sunlight. Back in the 1950's the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took by eminent domain about 200+ acres of Haverford Township to build a state mental hospital. The facility lasted until the late 90's. When it closed the township had the opportunity to buy it from the state (why it just wasn't returned to township control I never quite understood). There was plenty of local drama surrounding how this bonanza was to be used. There was talk that Villanova University would buy it and build its law school there. Eventually it was sold to a developer (not without a scandal that saw a Township Commissioner convicted of corruption). The developer was to build on the old hospital grounds and 120 acres would be given to the township for recreational purposes. The result is that a large portion remains undeveloped (part was given over to athletic fields, dog park, a very special playground, and a Community Recreation and Environmental Center (the CREC). Although the choices made didn't please everyone the overall result is really quite satisfactory. I haven't used the CREC much but have used the dog park and the trails through the undeveloped portion. This is not wilderness by any stretch of the imagination. I476 (the Blue Route) cuts through a corner of the property. But what a treasure. The woods remaining haven't been touched for almost a hundred years. There is a problem with invasive species but that is being addressed. There are too many deer but a culling program has been initiated. (Like the culling taking place in Valley Forge I have mix feelings. I intellectually know that the deer population must be reduced for the health of the woods but when I run with the deer which I have on many occasions it breaks my heart that they will be taken by a bow hunter.) I have run to the reserve but today for distance and time sakes I drove. My run took me on some of the newly mark trails and on some that I suspect are merely deer trails barely passable. There are unusual sights: a stone and timber cabin that must be hundreds of years old slowly returning to nature perhaps not historic enough to be preserved (or just neglected); an ancient piece of machinery abandoned but how did it get there; a slab of concrete without any apparent purpose. There is a trail that takes you under the Blue Route and the contrast between the thumping traffic and the quiet wetland just beyond is striking. Today I managed a four mile loop, some of my own making, but lightly always lightly. Today is a brilliant argument for a four season climate. I wish I could bottled it for a cold, dreary February day. The light is just magical and last night a light frost so while many trees remain green others have turned golden yellows and reds. I got back to my car in 50 minutes and was very tempted to set out again but prudence prevailed. All this just a couple miles from my front door. I am very lucky indeed. Good running to all.

Friday, September 28, 2012

There's a moment when traveling down Rt. 30 toward Lancaster a vista opens of green, fertile farmland and you are stunned by the beauty of the landscape. It is not pure nature. The landscape is man made, but it seems as if you have entered a mythic realm like Tolkien’s shire. Tolkien would recognize in the Plain Folk many of the qualities of his beloved hobbits.Family, love and care for the land, food plain and simple but so good.

(See Wikipedia for a good breakdown of the various Plain Folk [Lancaster County alone has 30 variants of the Amish]).

There is a tension between the touristy, commercial Lancaster and the back road farming communities just off the highway. The Amish are no strangers to the blandishments of the modern world. These are not isolated folks. But they have chosen to remain in the world but apart.

My weekend began with the Friday night pasta dinner and 5K. Hot air balloons went up all through dinner. My niece and nephew ran the 5K and it was great fun seeing them coming in with the Amish children who ran.

Saturday, unfortunately, was the last of the warm, muggy days and it wasn’t a pretty day, and because of threaten storms no balloons, but the course – what a delight. At the start, the crowd around me was relaxed and friendly. The course wound through a late summer landscape and Amish farmers watched our passing. How strange we must seem to them. The water stations were great fun especially the children who were a special delight. One of my favorite things on the 13 mile trip through that farmland were the children lined up on a fence and at the water stops calling out water and Gatorade, Gatorade.

We passed a quartet of horses at the edge of a field of corn and having recently ridden a Belgian mare I thought I recognized the breed. Are those Belgians I called out. The farmer didn’t answer but an Amish man standing near by did, “Yes, and very fine ones they are”. I’m guessing the farmer couldn’t boast on his horse but his friend could. A little further on there were two young men with a team of animals. Are they donkeys I asked – no mules. When shortly after another teenager came down the road with a team I shouted out “Mules?” - Yes. Wow, I getting to be an agricultural expert.

Another favorite was when we turned onto a country lane (Red Lane?). It was a narrow, crushed stone and suddenly I saw a very large banner for Rita’s Water Ice. It seemed so alien and out of place, but just past it was a table manned by teenagers giving out water ice. What a treat! But how they got the ice there and kept it cold is a mystery. However, it seemed to capture the magic of this weekend – the marvelous combination of English and Amish sensibilities. I doubt if I ever enjoyed a water ice so much.

After finishing – getting a great medal and some refreshment I thought to leave but the line of cars was so long I walked back and listen to the gospel group playing and sat thru the awards. I was glad I did. The music was excellent and it was nice to see the diverse runners get their prizes.

Saturday afternoon we went to the barbecue hosted by the local fire company (turns out the Amish can be volunteer fireman). Almost everyone there were plain folk. What a wonderful atmosphere there was. I found the mixture of an ordinary barbecue with folks who otherwise have rejected much of the 21sth Century intriguing. I had such of good time I asked to be directed to a member of the fire company because I wanted to make a donation, but was told no they just wanted everyone to have a good time, an enjoyable time. Well I did – a very good time. Of the dozens of half marathons I have done it was my favorite ever. I have mix feelings now. I want to tell everyone I know how great it was and do it and at the same time I want to keep it the small intimate experience I had. Selfish I know but there it is. Those of us lucky enough to have run the 2012 event had a very special experience – thanks to everyone who made it possible.